Moscow police recently detained journalists Veronika Samusik (pictured) and Vasiliy Krestyaninov after they covered a performance artist in the city's Red Square. (Photo: Sota.Vision/YouTube)

Police detain 2 journalists who covered art performance in Moscow’s Red Square

Vilnius, Lithuania, June 15, 2021 — Russian authorities should stop detaining and harassing journalists for their work, and should drop any investigation into reporters Veronika Samusik and Vasiliy Krestyaninov, the Committee to Protect Journalists said today.

On June 11, Moscow police detained Samusik, a correspondent with the independent news website Sota.Vision, while she was covering a performance by artist Pavel Krisevich in Red Square in support of political prisoners, according to news reports. Officers in plainclothes stopped Samusik while she was photographing the performance, confiscated her camera’s memory card, and took her to the Kitay-Gorod police station in central Moscow, according to those reports and an interview the journalist gave with the independent broadcaster Dozhd TV.

Police released Samusik on June 13, and said she was under investigation for hooliganism, according to reports. Authorities did not return her camera on her release, she said in that interview.

Yesterday, police detained Krestyaninov, a reporter with the independent news website Readovka, who was the only other journalist to photograph Krisevich’s performance in Red Square, according to news reports and posts on Telegram by his employer. Authorities held him for about two hours, allegedly for possessing alcohol in public, and then fined and released him, according to those reports.

Readovka editor-in-chief Aleksey Ivanov told CPJ in a phone interview that the journalist’s detention was “very strange,” saying he was not drinking alcohol at the time, and noting that the arrest came so shortly after the Red Square performance.

“Russian authorities should immediately return Veronika Samusik’s equipment and refrain from pursing any investigation into her or journalist Vasiliy Krestyaninov over their coverage of a public art event in Red Square,” said Gulnoza Said, CPJ’s Europe and Central Asia program coordinator, in New York. “Police should not arrest journalists for covering public events, and should ensure that authorities do not harass members of the press with retaliatory arrests on trumped-up accusations.”

Samusik’s lawyer, Katerina Tertuchina, told CPJ in a phone interview that the journalist was a suspect in a hooliganism case, and said authorities could file formal charges “in one second.” If charged and convicted of hooliganism, Samusik could face up to seven years in prison, according to Russia’s criminal code.

Yuliya Samusik, the journalist’s mother, told CPJ via phone she was very concerned about her daughter, saying that police had dragged her during her arrest, roughly confiscated her camera, and generally “acted in a very rude way.” She said that Veronika Samusik, 19, left Moscow yesterday to return to her studies in St. Petersburg.

Igor Iasine, co-director of the Russian Professional Union of Journalists and Media Workers, an independent trade group, told CPJ via phone that his organization was “very concerned about the legal status of Samusik,” particularly because she was being investigated as a suspect rather than a witness to alleged crimes by Krisevich, who was also arrested. He said that his organization called on authorities to drop any investigation into her.

Ivanov told CPJ that he “cannot say that [Krestyaninov] was detained because of the incident in the Red Square, but the fact is that only Krestyaninov had managed to take pictures of the incident.”

During his arrest, police claimed that they had “followed” Krestyaninov for a long time, according to Sota.Vision.

CPJ called Tagansky District Court of Moscow, which is overseeing the investigation into Samusik, but no one answered. When CPJ called the Moscow Krasnoselskoye district police station, an officer who answered said they had no comment.